Created By: bradparaJuly 22, 2011 Last Edited By: GeneralityOctober 4, 2014
Troped

Evil Is Sterile

Evil is a corruptive and destructive force only, fundamentally incapable of creation or goodness.

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The nature of evil is difficult to define. It is, after all, a highy subjective concept, which we never encounter in any truly concrete form. And so, writers have different ideas as to what evil means, what are its goals, its methods, its limitations.

One weakness typically ascribed to the force of evil is that it cannot create. The Power Of Creation is seen as positive and Good, the purview of a God who is probably the Big Good of any given mythos. So, Evil Is Sterile. It cannot create, cannot imagine or have new ideas, certainly cannot produce new forms of life, because Creating Life Is Awesome. It may be able to propogate, but only in the manner of The Virus, by turning everything into more of itself, without the possibility of evolution, or the retention of the unique qualities that once inhabited what existed before.

Beings who have fallen under evil control, whether they are Reforged Into A Minion or taken over by their Superpowered Evil Side, become cruder and twisted versions of themselves. They may gain power, but they lose crucial aspects that once made them special, and will probably not behave very intelligently.

Symbolically, this ties in with the idea that Dark Is Evil, because darkness is the absence of light and cannot change on its own. If is for this same reason that Good Hurts Evil.

Ultimately, the hope of this kind of evil is to, at best, corrupt the whole world into being just like itself, and at worst, destroy everything. The possibility of making something new and different is anathema to it.

A typical bonus is that Evil Cannot Comprehend Good. See also Evil Knockoff, The Corruption and Creative Sterility. Compare and contrast Creating Life Is Bad. Contrast Good Is Impotent.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Implied in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann- the Anti-Spiral opposes the growth of Spiral energy, which is produced by biological evolution. Thus, the Anti-Spiral opposes evolution and represents enforced stagnation. It has a series of protocols in place to deal with burgeoning Spiral races, which consist basically of increasing numbers of mindless automata that can only destroy. When the protagonists defeat the last of these measures, the only recourse the Anti-Spiral has is to match them in form and strength.

Comic Books
  • In Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Sheeda are so incapable of creating things that they have to travel through time and pillage previous civilizations in order to get the resources to maintain their own. The series as a whole could be considered a meta-commentary on the comic-book industry's tendency to plunder its own continuity for ideas.

Film
  • In TRON and its sequel, Master Control and Clu respectively had this issue, which is why they were so big on repurposing opposing Programs.
  • The anti-war nightmare cartoon Wizards has a minor subplot involving the evil mutants' inability to create (healthy, sustainable) life.

Literature
  • This philosophy creeps steadily into the Belgariad's sequel series, the Malloreon. There are two Prophecies working at odds for the future of creation, and in the first series these are presented as simple good and evil, the Prophecies of Light and Dark. The sequel series gets into the idea that good and evil are subjective, and makes the Prophecies more about progress and stagnation, respectively. The good Prophecy wants to create a future in which new things happen, whereas the evil Prophecy wants everything to remain the same forever. The principle is aptly described by Garion's speech near the climax:
    You cannot lock me into immobility. If I change only one little thing, you've lost. Go stop the tide if you can, and leave me alone to do my work.
    • Also by David Eddings, The Redemption Of Althalus has 3 gods in it; Daeva, the god of destruction who basically wants to destroy the universe just because it exists at all, cannot create anything new.
  • In the Keys To The Kingdom book series, it is mentioned that only The Architect, The Old One, or humans can create anything original. The Denizens can only copy things they've seen. This becomes important later.
  • A defining metaphysical law in JRR Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings and The Silmarillion. Evil cannot create anything new, they can only corrupt and ruin what good forces have invented or made. Melkor/Morgoth, the equivalent of Satan and creator of evil, desires to remake the world according to his image, but his image isn't terribly imaginitive, and he's fundamentally incapable of creating new life. He gains armies and servants by perverting and twisting existing beings (the Orcs, in some versions, are corrupted Elves), or by gaining the loyalty of existing spirits (the Balrogs and possibly the Dragons are his Fallen Angels).

    In the beginning of The Silmarillion, when the World is designed in cosmic song, Melkor attempts to take over the Music by interjecting of his own theme. It's "brash and repetitive," all brute force without subtlety, and it only perverts the concepts introduced by Eru (the equivalent of God) rather than inventing new ones.
  • In Mistborn, the two gods, Ruin and Preservation, can only create when they work together, which they are inherently loath to do. Ruin in particular is fundamentally unable to improve any situation, but instead leads everything toward chaos and destruction, which is just the way he likes it. At the end of the series, both gods are destroyed, and a main character takes in both of their powers, with which he can do essentially whatever he likes.
  • The Big Bad of Orson Scott Card's The Tales Of Alvin Maker is the Un-Maker, a being of malevolence to all existence. As an entity of non-being, it is incapable of making or creating anything, even something non-physical, like a plan for undoing the works of Alvin Maker. It instead has to rely on its willing human tools to do that sort of thing for it.
  • In the Tour Of The Merrimack series, the Hive is said only to learn and adapt, and unable to conceive new ideas.
  • In Pact, apart from making motes (weaker demons that bud off stronger ones) demons cannot create and can only destroy.

Live-Action TV
  • Doctor Who has several villains which are stated to be this way; however, because they have to be frequently reinvented to keep the show fresh (or because the studio ran out of original props), they tend to change gradually over time. Notable examples include:
    • The cybermen, your basic robot assimilators. They can't reproduce and can only create more of themselves by stealing live humans and turning them into more cybermen. They can advance technologically but are incapable of evolution, biological or cultural, as they lack both reproduction and imagination. This means that the actual power and threat of an individual Cyberman varies from one episode to another, but their weaknesses tend to be retained.
    • The Daleks, your basic space fascists, invoke this by being Fantastic Racists: everything the slightest bit different from them is wrong and should be destroyed. This is, however, defied by the Cult of Skaro (a group of four Daleks who even had individual names) which was created for the sole purpose of imagination. Nevertheless, their appearance is updated frequently, and in the rebooted show has been completely redone almost every series. Their tactics also vary over time.

Video Games
  • In the The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion expansion Shivering Isles, the amazingly creepy Knights of Order and their master Jyggalag are said to have no original thoughts whatsoever. Their fighting style reflects this - Jyggalag uses some spells, but the knights just swing swords at you until you or they die. When Order tries subterfuge, Sheogorath concludes that things aren't going so bad - Order doesn't try creativity unless everything else has failed, and they suck at it.
  • Fallout, the super mutants who are out to make all other humans mutants and destroy anything they can't transform, turn out to be sterile. This is a major plot point, as their Visionary Villain leader thinks mutants are the next evolution of humanity, and the revelation that every one of them is unable to reproduce means their race is doomed to eventually die out.
  • In Dragon Age, the Darkspawn are incapable of reproducing like other species. They also seem to be mindless brutes who are only capable of destroying things, although the existence of the Architect suggests that Darkspawn may have the capacity to be less destructive if they are freed from the Archdemon's control.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Mordin posits that the Reapers have no capacity for creativity, as evidenced by the fact that the creatures under their thrall are never seen creating anything.


Community Feedback Replies: 49
  • July 22, 2011
    c0ry
    Supertrope of Evil Knockoff.
  • July 22, 2011
    Allronix
  • July 22, 2011
    Ekuran
  • July 22, 2011
    Allronix
    Possible quote, from Tron Legacy:
    Clu can't create new programs. He can only destroy or repurpose them.

    • Both Master Control and Clu had this issue, which is why they were so big on repurposing opposing Programs.
  • July 23, 2011
    TechUnadept
    The Orcs from LOTR are de-evolved from elves mutated by Morgoth's magic.
  • August 3, 2011
    NetMonster
    There's a fable about Satan trying to rival God in creation. Satan managed to create the goat but couldn't get it to stand properly. Then God intervened and added the characteristic knees so the goat could stand and walk. The conclusion is supposed to be this trope.
  • August 4, 2011
    Sailor11sedna
    Lampshaded in SD Gundam's Zako Zako Hour segment. Although they might have been wrong.
  • August 4, 2011
    robybang
    • The villains in Atlas Shrugged. The only things they are shown to create are things intended to destroy, and even then, they need the good guys' help to build or repair them.
  • August 5, 2011
    Grandy
    • Even thought he is not evil (just terribly, terribly good at his job), Death from the Discworld series, being the physical manifestation of, well, death, destruction, the end of all, etc., cannot create anything properly. He creates things, but there are flaws, the exception being corn fields, which he learned how to take care of in his brief period as a human.
  • August 7, 2011
    Sailor11sedna
    In the Keys to the Kingdom book series, it is mentioned that only The Architect, The Old One, or humans can create anything original. The Denizens can only copy things they've seen. This becomes important later.
  • August 7, 2011
    Prime_of_Perfection
    The Templars in Assassin's Creed. Everything they have and use is based on Those Who Came From Before, but part of reason their's is not as good as the Assassin's is because they lack any creativity or ambition.
  • August 10, 2011
    between3and20
    Might also be related to Villains Blend In Better, where evil is more universal and thus accepted into a new culture with different ideas. By assimilating all these different ideas into the horde, the villain's don't need to create so much as "borrow" from all available source material.

    In this case, evil might not put forward anything new because they don't want to leave anyone out or are trying to avoid showing favoritism.

    However, I'm not sure how this works if Science Is Bad...
  • August 10, 2011
    Nocturna
    In relation to the above Lord Of The Rings reference, Morgoth does not have the power to create, only to change and corrupt what already exists. The orcs are an example of this, being (in some versions) corrupted elves.

    This is also a commonly held belief in Christianity: God alone can create ex nihilo; Satan can only twist what has already been created.
  • August 11, 2011
    Heatherly
    This is sometimes literal without being explained in universe. For example, the anti-war nightmare cartoon Wizards has a minor subplot involving the evil mutants' inability to create (healthy, sustainable) life.
  • March 6, 2012
    arromdee
    I'm not sure Tron Legacy counts. I interpreted it as being that the programs couldn't create because they were not really alive like people, not because they were evil.
  • March 7, 2012
    Cider
    So Creative Sterility but for evil? If there are not any examples that wouldn't count for creatively sterility already I don't think it is needed.
  • March 7, 2012
    Generality
    Of the six examples compiled here, only two are on the Creative Sterility page. This suggests that the interpretation of the two is at least somewhat different.

    You make a good point, though. Certainly this is a subtrope of Creative Sterility, but in addition to the matter of specificity there seems to be a difference in basic perspective. That trope is about races or beings being uncreative, with the emphasis on Humans Are Special. This is about a factor in the definition of evil itself, a fundamental force that drives all antagonism in many stories, by claiming that it has this great weakness, opposing not only good but the idea of creation itself. I suppose you could invert this concept and say also that creation is a fundamental element of goodness.
  • March 7, 2012
    Tiiba
    In the Oblivion expansion Shivering Isles, the amazingly creepy Knights of Order and their master Jyggalag are said to have no original thoughts whatsoever. Their fighting style reflects this - Jyggalag uses some spells, but the knights just swing swords at you until you or they die. When Order tries subterfuge, Sheogorath concludes that things aren't going so bad - Order doesn't try creativity unless everything else has failed, and they suck at it.
  • March 7, 2012
    surgoshan
    • In Orson Scott Card's The Tales Of Alvin Maker, the Big Bad of the series is the Un-Maker, a being of malevolence to all existence. Being a being of non-being, it is incapable of making or creating anything, even something non-physical, like a plan for undoing the works of Alvin Maker. It instead has to rely on its willing human tools to do that sort of thing for it.
  • March 15, 2012
    Generality
    We still need an agreement on the tropability of this. Is it sufficiently different from (or compartmental to) Creative Sterility?
  • May 8, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    ^That one has no "evil" connotations there, so it would be sufficiently different.
  • May 8, 2012
    Earnest
    • In Vampire The Requiem, vampires are sterile because they're biologically dead, and are given fluff about being creatively much duller than when in life. However, one sourcebook puts forth the possibility of Dhampyr's who are born of a vampire and human parent. Though wholly human and alive, they are actually fundamentally hostile and inimical to vampires because their blood causes sickness and triggers curses in vampires who drink unknowingly from them. The reason? The contradiction of creating life from death caused the curse of vampirism to take out it's anger at this cosmic farce by making dhampyr's Blessed With Suck (because vampires who discover dhampyr's tend to kill them as dangerous).
  • May 8, 2012
    Generality
    ^^ At present, I'm inclined to launch this as a subtrope. Hats will tell.
  • May 9, 2012
    BlackDragon
    Dragonlance comes to mind... apparently, in it, Evil Gods can't create new life - only Good ones can. The Always Chaotic Evil races are all the result of good races that have been 'altered' by evil gods, or by the chaotic Grey Stone.

    This becomes a plot-point in the no-longer-valid Bad Future where Raistlin ascended to Godhood by supplanting the evil goddess Takharsis, and proceeded to destroy the rest of the pantheon as well. The resulting 'god-war' blighted the lands and wiped out all life... and since the ascendant Raistlin was a thoroughly evil god, he couldn't create new life, thus condemning himself to an immortal eternity of completely solitude...
  • May 9, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    Religion
    • The Bible: Satan is never spoken of as creating things, only destroying, manipulating them, or causing them to appear in a different form. One of his nicknames is even "The Destroyer."
  • May 9, 2012
    DracMonster
    The name sounds too much like Creepy Cleanliness.

    Good Creates Evil Corrupts (Or subverts or perverts) Would need a comma after creates.

    Corruption Is Evils Creation

    Evil Can Only Plagiarize Good
  • May 9, 2012
    Generality
    ^ The original title of the YKTTW was Evil Cant Create. I changed it to reference Creative Sterility, and to avoid using an apostrophe, but the similarity to that trope is problematic.
  • May 9, 2012
    DracMonster
    You know, evil making corrupted copies and evil as a destructive force might actually warrant separate pages. They are sister tropes and probably a good number of works combine them, but there are probably instances of one or the other.
  • May 10, 2012
    Generality
    Being a force of destruction is pretty much an inherent part of the definition of evil. This is about evil being unable to create things that are original.
  • March 20, 2013
    CaptainPeregrin
    Just a nitpick on the LOTR entry: Balrogs aren't "spirits predisposed to evil", they're actually corrupt Maia. Another notable example of corruptive evil (from Sauron) is the Ringwraiths, who were powerful Men corrupted by their Rings of Power.
  • March 20, 2013
    Irrisia
    Also by David Eddings, The Redemption Of Althalus has 3 gods in it; Daeva, the god of destruction who basically wants to destroy the universe just because it exists at all, cannot create anything new.
  • March 20, 2013
    dvorak
    Literature
  • March 25, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    I rewrote the Tolkien example to clarify it and correct some mistakes (Balrogs weren't "predisposed" to evil as Captain Peregrin pointed out, and Morgoth's inability to create is an established fundamental law of the universe, not just an apparent observation).

    I wonder, is it worth listing a subversion?

    In Werewolf The Apocalypse, the main force of evil in the universe is the Wyrm, the cosmic embodiment of destruction. Both it and the Weaver, the cosmic embodiment of shape and continuance (and the other Big Bad) should be metaphysically incapable of creation, or so you'd think. But they're both quite able to spawn entire spirits and concepts whenever the fuck, in addition to being depressingly adept and corrupting pre-existing creatures to their causes. Are they able to do this because the cosmic balance of the universe is broken and they're stepping outside their roles? Or just because it's a Crapsack World? Who knows.
  • July 8, 2013
    Chabal2
    • Inverted in Warhammer 40 K: one of the core tenets of the Cult of the Machine is that all scientific knowledge was once available to Mankind but but was lost over millenia, and it is their mission in the universe to gather as much of that knowledge (mostly in the form Standard Template Constructs, a kind of computer blueprint for a given object/vehicle/weapon/etc. that can be built with whatever materials are at hand). While some minor modifications are allowed if circumstances demand it, outright inventing something is heresy to them. By contrast, the Dark Mechanicus is devoted to Chaos, and is always coming up with new and innovative flame-spewing vehicular monstrosities.
      • Ork Meks are somewhat similar, in that their innate knowledge of mechanical principles is genetic, so they all produce more or less the same vehicles, but with the proper ressources a mek can create some truly fear-inspiring contraptions.
      • Also inverted by servants of Slaanesh. Being Sense Freaks, they get off not only on Rape Pillage And Burn, but also through creating art, music...
  • July 8, 2013
    DrakeClawfang
    Fallout, the super mutants who are out to make all other humans mutants and destroy anything they can't transform, turn out to be sterile. This is a major plot point, as their Visionary Villain leader thinks mutants are the next evolution of humanity, and the revelation that every one of them is unable to reproduce means their race is doomed to eventually die out.
  • January 11, 2014
    DAN004
    Add TRON examples plz...

    Also refer to Scale Of Scientific Sins about creating life.
  • June 12, 2014
    Generality
    ^ The TRON examples need elaboration, actually.
  • June 12, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ like, how? They're villains and they can't go beyond what they're programmed to do, need I say more?
  • June 12, 2014
    StrixObscuro
    Comic Books
    • In Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Sheeda are so incapable of creating things that they have to travel through time and pillage previous civilizations in order to get the resources to maintain their own. The series as a whole could be considered a meta-commentary on the comic-book industry's tendency to plunder its own continuity for ideas.

    Video Games
    • In Dragon Age, the Darkspawn are incapable of reproducing like other species. They also seem to be mindless brutes who are only capable of destroying things, although the existence of the Architect suggests that Darkspawn may have the capacity to be less destructive if they are freed from the Archdemon's control.
    • In Mass Effect 2, Mordin posits that the Reapers have no capacity for creativity, as evidenced by the fact that the creatures under their thrall are never seen creating anything.
  • June 12, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Frodo lampshades this during The Return Of The King.
    Sam: Don't orcs eat, and don't they drink? Or do they just live on foul air and poison?
    Frodo: No, they eat and drink, Sam. The Shadow that bred them can only mock; it cannot make: not real, new things of its own. I don't think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined and twisted them, and if they are to live at all, they have to live like other living creatures.
  • June 19, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Bump.
  • June 19, 2014
    Statzkeen
    This was a big part of the theology of CS Lewis as well and found its way into many of his writings.

    This trope was averted (I believe - at least it was discussed) in The Wrath Of Khan - creation is described as having a lot of potential for evil because creation of something new implies destruction of something old, and the destruction is even easier than the creation.
  • July 31, 2014
    klas.wullt
    "Bomb abortion clinic" people should be mentioned! The title is misleading... This idea is flawed, you should put some good snark in it. Robots and manufacturing plants would be inherently more good than arcadian small scale vinefarms becouse it creates more. Transformes use this idea, with their god that created the transformes. Litterature is closer to "creativity" is good. Utilitarians often use this trope in science fiction thought.

    Highly inverted in Neil Gailmans Destruction of the Dream series.

  • July 31, 2014
    klas.wullt
    Dumb the God reference..

  • July 31, 2014
    rmctagg09
    In Pact, apart from making motes (weaker demons that bud off stronger ones) demons cannot create and can only destroy.
  • August 15, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Bump.
  • September 28, 2014
    DAN004
    Compare and contrast Creating Life Is Bad
  • September 28, 2014
    Sahira
    • Doctor Who:
      • The cybermen are this. They can't reproduce and can only create more of themselves by stealing live humans and turning them into more cybermen. They can advance technologically but are incapable of evolution, biological or cultural, as they lack both reproduction and imagination.
      • The Daleks invoke this by being Fantastic Racists: everything the slightest bit different from them is wrong and should be destroyed. This is, however, subverted by the Cult of Skaro (a group of four Daleks who even had individual names) which was created for the sole purpose of imagination.
  • October 4, 2014
    Generality
    Okay, prepping for launch.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable